ory awoke in the loft and looked over to find that Shannon was not there. He tried to tell himself that Shannon had just gone out to relieve himself, but stirred anyway, preparing to go out and find him. Rory was plagued with nagging concerns about his rather unpredictable friend.
He greeted their hosts when he came down the rough ladder and told them he would be back for something to break his fast. He went outside and did not see Shannon at first. "Och, if he's gone with a colleen, or worse, gone to find a tavern…"
Just then he caught sight of Shannon coming around the side of one of the cottages. He looked pale and ill at ease. He saw Rory and tried to look more cheerful, running up to greet him.
"Rory, old son, did ye sleep well?" He tried to sound bright.
Rory eyed him carefully, "I be after thinkin' I should ask ye that question."
Shannon dropped the act. "Och, I woke up in the wee hours and just couldnae go back to sleep. I decided to go for a walk in the fresh air. And ye can stop that damned sniffin'.. I have not had a drink. Not even a breakfast ale."
Rory leaned back from Shannon whom he had thought he was unobtrusively smelling for the yeasty smell of drink. He would have sniffed for clues of a woman too, but the women in these villages smelled more like a sweaty minstrel than like the bawds in towns.
"Nay, I have nae been with a colleen, neither. Sure and ye dinnae trust me far, do ye?" Shannon was acting very testy and irritable now that he had dropped the "happy Irishman" act.
Rory looked a little hurt and a little embarrassed at the same time. "Just lookin' after ye, old son," he explained.
Shannon snapped, "Well and I can take care o' meself, old son.." he said in a mocking voice. He strode away and into the cottage.
Rory was relieved to see that as they ate with the family Shannon went very sparing with the proffered ale, but he also went very sparing with any food offered him. Still when the two set off to see how much of the road to Nottingham they could cover, Shannon seemed more himself.
As they passed through forest and field on the narrow, barely visible track, they sang songs they both knew and laughed at old memories of their boyhoods in Ireland. The day was sunny but not too warm, spring was all around, and at least for the morning the two friends just enjoyed each other's companionship.
Along the way Shannon and Rory would pass through clusters of cottages and sometimes actual villages. It was understood that the water in the well was for any traveler, and when the two would stop to drink, people would come out to see who was passing through and like as not ask for a song. If the minstrels were hungry they did not even have to ask for food, as it was pressed on them at every turn.
As the afternoon wore on Shannon stopped talking and singing as they walked together. Rory tried to pull him out of his slump, but discovered quickly that the O'Neill was not interested in anything but quiet. When he did speak it was to complain about how all the stops and having to sing at every one was delaying their progress. Rory knew that want of the accustomed alcohol was taking a toll on his friend, and was not at all surprised when the man said irritably out of the blue, "I need a drink.. not water, real drink. Ale, wine, anything."
Rory did not know quite what to say in return and decided just to keep walking. Shannon, as far as he could anyway, seemed to appreciate it.
As evening came upon them, Shannon suddenly stopped and turned to his friend, "Rory, me old darlin', why do we not just make camp here? I cannae face another night in a village.. I feel like a trained dog. All the seeking faces and colleens with their hands all over me." He looked pleadingly at Rory.
"Sure and that sounds like a fine idea to me, me darlin' friend. " Rory looked around. "Here?"
Shannon looked ten years older than he had just two days ago. "Aye, I suppose this will do as well as any other muck hole."
Rory watched Shannon as he chose a place that seemed dry and sheltered and pulled out his bedroll and stretched out on it. "Sure, and ye must be as hungry as I, and I have some bread and cheese they gave us in Buckgate."
Shannon growled, "What I be is thirsty.. me head aches and I cannae think o' anythin' but a tankard o' ale." Rory started to reply, but Shannon interrupted him, "If it be a'right with ye, me friend, I'll just be after goin' t'sleep. I will find the food later. I be not in a fit mood to chatter wi' ye."
Rory smarted at the word "chatter" but just nodded and stretched out his own bed roll and sat on it, making a meal of the cheese, bread and water he carried. He decided to stretch out to sleep himself as the light grew dim and fell asleep quickly.
Rory was awakened by distressed noises coming from Shannon's bedroll. He sat up , trying to see in the pale firelight. Shannon seemed to be asleep, but struggling to awake. He mumbled as though he was arguing with someone, then suddenly cried out in Gaelic, something about being left in peace. Rory went over and kneeled by him and shook his shoulder.
"Shan, Shan, wake up. 'Tis only a dream!" Shannon struggled harder and then abruptly sat up and struck out at his friend.
"Why, ye scoundrel, take ye'r hands off the lady!" he shouted, then suddenly looked stunned. "Rory, what ails ye? What happened?"
Rory explained that he had been having some sort of bad dream and was struggling in his sleep. He asked Shannon if he remembered the dream. Shannon shook his head. "I dinnae understand .. I feel like hell."
Rory sighed. "Shannon, 'tis not easy to give up the drink. Me uncle Hugh gave it up after his second wife threatened to leave him.. and he was hell to live with for a while."
Shannon, who was holding his head in his hands, looked up sharply at his friend, "How long?" he demanded.
Rory thought. "Hmmmm… some days I think I recall… " then encouraged, "But he said he felt like a new man after!"
Shannon moaned, "I feel like a new sack of shit."
Rory put an arm around his shoulder. "Me dear one, just do what ye need to do.. if 'twill make ye feel any better, take a punch at me when it gets bad."
Shannon laughed. "Oh, I shall.. I promise I shall. One of these days, Rory, right in the kisser." He smiled gratefully at his friend. "Och now, let's both get some more sleep."
The next morning the two set off for the last leg of their journey to Nottingham.
Next: Mary of Nottigham